CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006
A Magical Adventure in a Leaf. (The Quantum Quest Series).
G. Gayle Millbank.
Victoria, BC: Seapoint Publishing (2880 Seapoint Dr., V8N 1S8), 2004.
32 pp., pbk., $13.95.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Barbara McMillan.
I have an idea. Let's go inside a blackberry.
Now that would be cool!” exclaimed Chris. “But… I'm too big.”
“No you're not, just use your magic power. Chris, you're going to love this.”
Claire closed her eyes and said the magic words her grandmother had taught her, “power within, power within.” Then she imagined being the size of a blackberry.
Thus begins Chris and Claire's adventure along the forest path lined with blackberry bushes. Like the characters in Joanna Cole's “The Magic School Bus” series of books and videos and Lewis Carroll's Alice, Claire and her younger brother Chris begin to shrink. They find themselves standing on the leaf of a blackberry plant and are able to slip through the guard cells of a stomatal pore, normally used for gas exchange. Once inside the leaf, they see the balloon-shaped mesophyll cells, not much bigger than themselves, filled with “a lot of little green blobs,” the chloroplasts.
Chris begins whispering “power within” and disappears into a chloroplast before Claire can stop him. They enter a world of “hisses and bangs” and “red lightning.” Chris grabs onto the tail of a kite-like structure, a molecule of chlorophyll, and advises Claire to hold on tight as they are “whipped back and forth” in what Claire describes as “a wild, hot, noisy, electrical storm.” Just when they think they need to find a way out of the chloroplast, they are surrounded by white, sweet clouds of glucose that will quickly become fast-moving rivers of sticky, sweet syrup. They call out “power within” and eventually end up standing in the forest where their adventure began.
A Magical Adventure in a Leaf is Gayle Millbank's first book in “The Quantum Quest Series” published by Seapoint Publishing. She introduces readers to the process by which green plants capture energy from the Sun and through the process of photosynthesis convert this energy along with water and carbon dioxide gas into the stored chemical energy of glucose with oxygen gas and water as the by-products. The story, however, was not created to be the same story for all readers. Young children reading Claire's pink speech bubbles, Chris' blue speech bubbles, and the information provided in the illustrations may only be made aware of the adventure and some of the consequences for Claire and Chris of being sufficiently small to fit inside a leaf. Those who also choose to read the pink text that appears in dialogue boxes on each page are provided with some additional qualitative information about leaf structure (external and internal), the chloroplast, light energy, and chemical changes. They will also encounter scientific terms like atom, quantum leap, electrons, and heat. The more mature independent reader who may be interested in the process of photosynthesis is provided with fact-based statements at the bottom of each page and chemical models and formulas in the illustrations. The statements resemble a scrolling message at the bottom of a television screen. An example on page three, where the excerpt at the beginning of this review is found, is the following: “Sunlight travels from the sun as bundles of quanta of energy called photons.”
The level at which Millbank's text is read determines the magic of the adventure. I'm not convinced that the “story” presented for the most mature reader is magical, or that magical is even the accurate word to describe the phenomena about which she writes. What's remarkable is the process in primary producers that scientists call photosynthesis, and the creativity and history of scientific thought that helped to develop explanations of each step of this process. This isn't captured in the statements at the bottom of each page, which are too often written as if understanding is developed from carefully structured and scientifically accurate sentences. One must first ask, is the information intelligible? Is the information plausible? What evidence is there for believing the claims being made?
Millbank's book addresses content that is too sophisticated for students in Grade 3, who learn about growth and changes in plants, and attempts to make too simple a complex process for students in Grade 7, who learn about photosynthesis and respiration. This is a consequence of the three-tiered story, the overly busy layout, and confusing language. In addition to multiple layers of text, the pages contain solarized images of Claire and Chris superimposed on photographic illustrations, minimal drawings of the cellular structure of the leaf, and illustrations of the molecular structure of compounds in the chloroplast where electrons absorb photons (quanta of energy) and make quantum leaps to a higher energy level, and Claire and Chris make “quantum leaps” into and out of the chloroplast.
Recommended with reservations.
Barbara McMillan is a professor of early and middle years science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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